October 2014

Technology and Art

TechNArtIn a continuation of our “Technology and X” series, we turn our focus to technology and art. In the rapid rise of the digital age, technology has helped create entirely new mediums for artists to produce works with. Digital art and photography, animation, special effects, music and more have all been made possible by new technology. To explore the vast array of topics associated with art and technology, I’m going to break up this blog post into a few sections to talk about each of these genres in further detail, and show how you can use your tech skills to create works of art!

Digital Art and Photography

Digital art and photography are lumped together in this section due to the overlap of tech tools many professionals use to produce or enhance their work. Out of all the tools, Adobe Photoshop is perhaps the most popular. Originally created as a powerful image editing platform, Photoshop has gone through several iterations and contains many tools digital artists utilize in order to create dreamy and surreal paintings. With more customizable settings than you could ever hope to use, Photoshop lets users control every aspect of the design process. Color correction, digital paint brushes, special effects, filters, typography tools, and more. This program has everything, and is a must have for many photographers. The rest of the Adobe Creative Suite is also quite powerful, with programs such as Fireworks, Illustrator and InDesign, which are other artistic programs meant for producing pieces of design.

If you want to get started with any of the Adobe products, you can try them out for a 30 day free trial period. If you’re a teacher or a student, you can get a discount on a monthly Creative Cloud subscription. Since Photoshop and other programs can have a bit of a learning curve, I definitely recommended walking through some video tutorials on the Adobe website or Youtube. Video tutorials are great because you get to see the workflow and creative process of other users. To try some walkthrough project tutorials, I highly recommend design.tutsplus.com or abduzeedo.com – they have some fantastic project based tutorials.

Animation and Special Effects

The animation and SFX industry are certainly booming right now. There are seldom movies nowadays produced without any form of technical enhancement. If you want to dive into animation, prepare for a creative yet technical adventure. In most major animation studios, there are hundreds of people working on different aspects of any single film, ranging from creating better graphics algorithms to just sketching designs. Depending on how technical you want to get, you might consider going to school or taking some classes on animation and graphics.

However, if you just want to practice at home, there are some great alternatives for some lightweight experimentation. Blender is a popular and free 3D software rendering program. This program is great for beginners, and is open source, so it’s being updated all the time. If you want to try something a little more powerful, I recommend Maya or 3DS Max, both provided by Autodesk. These programs are free to download for students, but can be otherwise be a bit expensive. Blender.org has some great Blender tutorials for beginners. For Maya and 3DS Max, I would again recommend video tutorials to orient yourself with the interface and starting some projects. As a side note, all of these 3D programs are great ways to make prototypes of any sort of 3D physical project you might be planning. And if you have a 3D printer, you can design objects to 3D print through most of these programs! Talk about powerful!


Music is the final subtopic on this list. Digital music, including the rise of the EDM genre, rely heavily on modern technology. Sound can be recorded at top notch quality with fancy microphones, and edited to perfection with music editing programs. If you think you could be the next top music artist, digital or otherwise, technology will most certainly be a factor in producing your work.

The most popular (and free, if you have a Mac) music editor is GarageBand. It’s a powerful program with a simple interface that lets you drag and drop audio tracks, layer original and provided music and fade in and out clips. There’s also some support for noise cleanup and special effects. If you don’t have a Mac, a comparable option is Audacity, which you can download for free on both Mac and Windows. The interface isn’t as nice looking as GarageBand, but it does the same work. This site has a great intro tutorial for GarageBand, broken into different parts (http://blog.macformusicians.com/garageband-tutorial/) , but as with any creative process, I would actually just recommend playing around with these two programs to see what they’re capable of. And if you have an idea for a song, you can make it happen with these tools!

So that’s it for tech and art. That really only scratched the surface, but hopefully one of these areas caught your eye. If not, feel free to email me for more ideas and ways you can integrate technology with your artistic pursuits!

Technology and Fitness

fitbitDear Readers,

This blog post kicks off a new series I’m bringing to the website, which I’m calling Technology and X, where X can be any sort of industry or field you can think of. My goal is to reach out to people interested in all sorts of different hobbies and show them how technology can intermingle and combine with them to create amazing new innovations. Technology is pervasive, so why not embrace all that is has to offer? Who knows what sort of new fields or creations could arise from the introduction of technology. Personally, I believe that our greatest creations will arise from interdisciplinary endeavors (that’s why I chose to do an interdisciplinary major!).

The spotlight this week focuses on the intersectionality between technology and fitness. Notice how I’m not mentioning “technology and health” yet; that’s a whole other topic that I promise I will cover! For now though, I’m just going to look at how technology is being used every day to increase peoples’ fitness levels.

Let’s start with the basics. The first area technology has dominated in the past few years has with wearable fitness trackers. Small wristbands developed by FitBit or Jawbone are very popular. They come in an array of colors and offer a number of features. They’re waterproof (but not necessarily submergible) and meant to withstand any sort of workout. Their durability lets users leave them on all day and all night. Some fitness trackers keep track of how long you sleep, and how deep you sleep, based on your movements throughout the night. Others can even track your heart rate. They also keep record of how many steps you’ve done, when you’ve worked out, and the number of calories you are burning. Many trackers also have options to input what foods you’ve eaten that day, and the specific type of work out you might have done. All of your fitness information is now at the touch of your fingers. Or rather, your wrist.

The devices also sync with smartphones, and the companion apps are quite nice. They provide great visualizations of your data and let you see trends in your habits over time. Apps can also help set reminders with your band, or give real time alerts on your phone should you need textual cues.

But technology doesn’t have to be wearable to be associated with fitness. There are many smartphone apps that let you log your diet, encourage you to drink water, and keep track of where you have gone for runs. There’s even one novel app that simulates zombies trying to chase you as a motivation for you to run faster. These apps are a great, low cost (or free) alternative to having a wearable tracker. A wearable will probably be more accurate, but phones and their accelerometers can provide good approximations.

Many people have also turned to console devices for their fitness needs. Things like the Kinect for Xbox and the Playstation Move have gotten gamers off their couches and onto their feet. Workout games enable users to participate actively in workouts with varying difficulties. Sports games engage children and adults, all while encouraging them to move more. Immersive gaming has actually been quite beneficial in the fitness gaming category.

There are many other great examples of tech in fitness. Specially engineered clothes, ground breaking physical therapy machines and training safety equipment are especially new and promising. One day you might have clothes that light up when you go running at sunset, or clothes that can keep you especially cool when hiking on a hot day. Therapy patients might use virtual reality to stimulate simple tasks in which they can practice their exercises. World class treadmills may provide more realistic running simulations. There’s so much left to explore; we are only at the forefront of the technical west.

How to Get Started in Programming

helloworldSo, do you want to learn how to program? Don’t be afraid to say yes! In a world full of revolutionary technology, learning a programming language is almost an important part of being a global citizen. If we know how to read and write, why can’t we learn how to program? Catching fire with Code.org’s Hour of Code initiative that launched a year ago, the revolution to teach programming to kids at an early age has spread rapidly. More and more schools are implementing computer science classes so their kids can learn a valuable skill and stay ahead of the curve. But even as an adult, it’s not too late to learn how to program! I didn’t even know how to write code until my first year of college, so anyone can learn if they have enough motivation and passion. Personally, learning to code has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve learned in my entire life. I’ve made some really cool projects that I spent a lot of time on, but am quite proud of. It’s amazing to see how abstract concepts can be realized into a full-fledged, interactive program that you thought of.

Now, where to start? There are a variety of online resources to help you learn a programming language of your choice. I’ve listed my personal top websites below. Remember, when learning a new programming language, make sure to practice a little bit each day to keep your skills fresh. And don’t worry about memorizing all the syntax or rules needed for each language; not even professional programmers have the entire Java/C++/Python/any programming language’s syntax memorized, especially if they know more than one language. So if it seems hard at first, just remember to keep at it and think of all the amazing things you can do with programming.

Online Resources

  • Code Academy (codeacademy.com) – has many courses designed for beginners to help teach you a language as well as the fundamentals of programming. Their tutorials are a lot of fun too! Definitely a first stop on my list.
  • Khan Academy (khanacademy.org) – has a series of web videos to help you learn JavaScript, a fundamental language for web design and app programming. Make animations, simulate games and discover the logic behind programming.
  • Scratch Programming (scratch.mit.edu/) – learn programming through a visual drag and drop interface. Great for total beginners to play around with, and you can see direct results as you program. Also has a large community to share your projects with online.
  • Microsoft Virtual Academy (microsoftvirtualacademy.com) – Pick up a programming language through Microsoft’s Virtual Academy, with a variety of topics for beginners to advanced programmers.
  • TouchDevelop (by Microsoft) (touchdevelop.com) – make Windows 8 apps straight from your phone or computer! With a mobile optimized website, TouchDevelop makes it easy for users to make apps while playing around on their phones. Has some starter files for inspiration, as well as a community to share your apps with or ask questions. Check out the getting started page if you’re new to programming.
  • CodeHS (codehs.com) – learn simple programming with Karel the Dog and move on to a curriculum step by step tutorials, videos and exercises. CodeHS also provides online tutors if you get stuck.
  • KidsRuby (kidsruby.com) – learn Ruby programming through an environment made for kids. Enjoy adorable graphics as you learn this powerful programming language which is often used for web development.
  • Udacity (udacity.com/course/cs101) – study CS101 at your own pace and discover the magic of programming.
  • Learn Python the Hard Way (learnpythonthehardway.org/book) – don’t let the name fool you. Learning Python can be fun, and this online book takes you through multiple exercises to teach you the language.

Those are my top online resources. There are some great books out there too, if digital just isn’t your thing. And if you have any questions, or want some more advice on how to get started in programming, feel free to email me at nscrimshaw (at) stanford (dot) edu. I spent my whole summer encouraging and teaching kids and teens how to program, and know that anyone can pick up programming if they can get excited by it!